Steve

Steve McCurry

1. London, 1969

 

I had never traveled outside America before, but in 1969 I spent a year backpacking through Europe – France, and Spain, and Amsterdam – ending up in a youth hostel in Soho, London, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. There were people camped out in the lobby, in the recreational area, on the floor. I slept under the pool table. I remember the pubs, which were amazing, and thinking how weird it was buying a soft drink that wasn’t cold. In the US, everything was on ice.

 

2. Panama, 1972

 

Hitchhiking was pretty common in those days, and I wanted to learn Spanish, so I caught lifts from Philadelphia to Panama. There wasn’t a real plan; I just wandered, taking it all in and talking Spanish. The country was fascinating: it’s partly on the Caribbean, partly on the Pacific, with lots of Spanish festivals and parades. I took a camera, a Miranda, and took lots of pictures, in black and white, which I still have, loose in boxes.

 

3. Africa, 1973

 

This was my first trip to Africa – and a big one. I took a boat with a buddy from New York to Haifa, then to Cyprus. He stayed there and I went to Athens, then Cairo, and took a boat down the Nile to Aswan, went to Sudan, Uganda, Nairobi, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. No one did that in those days, so it was difficult. The Sud swamp was particularly crazy. We were in this old steamer, going on a path through the swamp that narrowed, then opened. If you got stuck you could be there for ever, just you and the mosquitoes.

 

4. Asia, 1978

 

This was the trip that launched me into the world of photography. It was meant to be a short trip round India and instead ended up being a two-year journey through India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Thailand, all over Asia… The thing that impressed me most was the immensity of the Subcontinent, from Calcutta to Ladakh, with its extraordinary variety of people and cultures. By then I had a Nikon, which I’ve stuck with since, and was shooting in color.

 

5. Yemen, 1997

 

The thing that struck me about Yemen was that here was an Arab country, but with a culture unlike any other. It was so distinct, unlike the Emirates or Saudi Arabia, which are really quite western. Everything about Yemen – the architecture, the food, the way people dressed – was original and individual. I ended up staying three or four months, getting great images.

 

6. Tibet, 2001

 

I went twice into Tibet, once flying into Kathmandu and once overland from Chengdu. I’m very interested in Buddhism and Tibet is its epicenter, the heart of the culture. I stayed at lots of monasteries and found the people’s devotion incredible: very profound and moving. You’re also surrounded by the Himalayas, which is the mightiest mountain range in the world, so going there is always quite an experience.

 

7. Ethiopia, 2012

 

This was my first trip to the country – with a friend who runs an NGO called OMO Child – and what struck me was that the way all these tribes live traditionally, like they have always done for hundreds of years. I was lucky – my friend has a great rapport with the tribes, so wherever we went they were hospitable and relaxed, with a great sense of humor, and I was able to take photographs all over the region.

 

Steve McCurry’s photographs for Vacheron Constantin can be viewed at overseas.vacheron-constantin.com

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Esther Freud

1. Morocco, 1967

 

My first big journey was when I was four, to Morocco, where I lived until I was six, and wrote about [in Hideous Kinky]. For the rest of my childhood I felt I had a secret, exotic, colorful Moroccan life inside me that nobody else in gray, rainy England understood. It affected me in another way: I spoke a muddle of English, French and Arabic, but couldn’t write until I was 10. I thought that stories and tales I’d heard in Morocco were more magical than putting letters in a certain order. I think they politely called me “vague”.

 

2. New York, 1979

 

When I was 16 I went to visit an American friend who lived in New York for Christmas. I couldn’t believe there was a city like it. They were a wonderful arty Jewish family on the Upper East Side; for Christmas morning we went to a diner for pancakes. It seemed so exotic. I took my sister Susie once, when our plane made an emergency landing; we ended up at a place called The Happy Donut. We still talk about it.

 

3. Italy, 1980

I’d just spent a year in London, at 17, getting to know my dad [the painter Lucian Freud], as I’d never lived in the same city before, and he invited me to go to Italy by train. We spent two weeks together, which was so precious. In Florence, he was wonderfully playful and badly behaved. Then there was the unbelievable beauty of Italy. And I fell in love. So it was a blissful adventure
 

4. India, 1984

 
In my early twenties, with tips I’d made from waitressing in a pizza restaurant, I went to India for three months with a friend and her father. We were naive and ill-prepared, so it was terrifying. My friend’s father was appalled by the rats and beggars; to him we’d entered a Bruegel painting of hell. It got better when we went south to Kerala and Kochi beach, which was paradise, and Jaipur and Rajasthan, where we had a magical time. I’ve been back often; it’s become an important part of my life.
 

5. Suffolk, England, 1985

 

Because I missed the English countryside, my father suggested I rented an old family cottage by the sea. Often seaside towns are barren, and the countryside overly cute, but Walberswick is so gentle that I immediately felt I belonged. The house was cold and bare, with terribly uncomfortable beds. But my architect grandfather lived there after they left Germany, and he renovated many of the houses in the village, so even now it feels like part of who I am.

 

6. South Africa, 1995

 

Three months after our son was born, my husband [actor David Morrissey] got a job in a tiny town called Upington, several hours from Johannesburg, in the desert, and persuaded me to come with Albie. It was dismal; really lonely and dreadful. But the director’s wife had a small child too, and she and her friends, and now their children, have become my most important of friends.

 

7. Germany, 2000

 

I knew, for my book The Sea House, that I needed to go back to a house in Hiddensee, off the Baltic coast, where my grandparents had taken my father and his brothers for their summer holidays. It was lovely: a sandy flat island with a lovely cold sea, beautiful old houses and bicycles, but no cars. A fishing family who remembered my grandfather invited me in, and cooked me eels: oily and pretty disgusting.

Esther Freud's latest novel, Mr Mac and Me, set in Walberswick, is published by Bloomsbury

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Richard E. Grant

1. 1964, London

 

When I was seven, my father went to America for six months on a Carnegie grant to lecture about education in Africa, accompanied by my mother. I went to live on my uncle’s cotton and cattle farm in the south of Swaziland, and, at the end of it, they arranged for me to fly on my own to meet them in London. Never having been on a plane before, I was incredibly excited.

 

2. 1969, Europe

 

My twelfth birthday present from my father was a family “cultural injection trip” to Europe to make up for the isolation of living in the smallest country in the southern hemisphere. It was incredible: Aida in Rome, the ruins in Pompeii, The Sound of Music in Salzburg, and in London, Hair, Oliver, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mame, starring Ginger Rogers. I particularly remember in Piccadilly Circus, which was peopled by hippies smelling of patchouli oil, seeing a woman wearing a transparent blouse. As a little Swazi boy in shorts, my eyes were on stalks!

 

3. 1978, London

 

This trip was my twenty-first birthday present from my parents, when I was midway through my drama degree. In six weeks, I saw 72 plays and films, including Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in Macbeth – both of whom I would work with 15 years later in Jack & Sarah. I diarized everything I saw and knew in my bones that this was the city in which I wanted to spend my adult life.

 

4. 1982, London

 

After my father’s death at the age of 52, I emigrated to England with a couple of suitcases, a Sony Walkman and big dreams. I lived in a tiny bedsit in Notting Hill Gate and worked as a waiter. Having met my future wife, Joan Washington, who coached me to do an Irish accent, I got an agent and began to get work: Shakespeare in Regent’s Park, then an improvised TV film for the BBC with Gary Oldman, which led to me being cast in Withnail & I and ultimately gave me a film career.

 

5. 1987, Los Angeles

 

I was flown to the U.S.A. to film Warlock. The excitement of being in Hollywood was matched by the acute loneliness of landing in a city where I didn’t know anyone and where you had to drive everywhere. Julian Sands introduced me to Jodie Foster, while every agent I met told me they were “so excited!” – something I soon realized they said to everyone, about everything. Working in bright sunshine in the middle of the Californian winter was spectacularly seductive, as was going to the grocery store and seeing screen legends I’d grown up watching in the cinema.

 

6. 2004, Swaziland

 

After five years of script rewrites, financial hiccups and casting challenges, I called “action” on my autobiographical film Wah-Wah, all shot in locations where the key events had actually taken place. It was a journey back into my own lifetime, and both cathartic and surreal by turn. I was particularly struck by the symmetry of having made a shoe-box theatre with cut-out figures attached to lollipop sticks when I was a little boy and then watching – on a monitor the same size as a shoe box – the story of my life being filmed with great actors like Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson and Julie Walters.

 

7. 2012, Grasse

 

Handbag supremo Anya Hindmarch saw me sniffing everything in sight on holiday in Mustique and suggested I create my own perfume. Visiting the olfactory nirvana of Grasse had been a lifelong dream, and the perfumed air when I arrived at the flower distilleries made me feel like Charlie stepping into the Chocolate Factory. I’d tried to make scent when I was 12, to impress an American girl, but my attempts at boiling gardenia and rose petals in sugar-watered jam jars failed. Fast-forward four and a half decades and choosing oils in Grasse to conjure up the scent I’d long dreamt of bottling was a Eureka moment. Jack (jackperfume.co.uk) launched in 2014, combining lime, marijuana and mandarin notes: my signature in scent.

 

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Prosper Assouline

1. Seville, 1962

 

I was born in Morocco, but my earliest memory of traveling was going to Seville with my parents when I was five. I can still remember the scent of orange blossom. I love Seville because it’s a crazy city. The people are so full of life. They enjoy every day because they have a constant tension between life and death: flamenco is life and the corrida [bull-fighting] is death.

 

2. The Louvre, Paris, 1972

 

When I was a teenager we moved to Paris. At the age of 15 I visited The Louvre for the first time. It made a big impression on me, and after that I went there nearly every week. My favorite place was an amazing room with 13 paintings by Rubens. The walls were a deep red. Today, we have 20 Assouline stores around the world and in all of them the walls are that same red.

 

3. St. Paul-de-Vence, 1976

 

I was 19 when I first discovered La Colombe d’Or [a restaurant in the Provençal town of St. Paul-de-Vence where famous artists would settle their bills with artworks]. It was my first real understanding of what luxury means. It’s not necessarily marble floors and vases of flowers but a simple restaurant with good tomatoes and great olive oil, where you’re surrounded by wonderful art and there’s an amazing view. I took my wife Martine there for the first time in 1992, a year after our wedding. She said, “We should do a book about this place.” So we did. We did it just for ourselves, as a hobby – I had an advertising agency at the time, Martine was a lawyer – but it was thanks to that book that we ended up going into publishing and working together.

 

4. New York, 2001

 

My first memory of New York was sitting on a step on a sunny day in SoHo eating a hot dog. It’s kind of a cheesy, touristy thing to do, but for me, that was a real New York moment. That was when I decided to set up an office in New York, and after that I was back and forth from Paris every two weeks until 2008 when Martine and I finally said to each other, “OK, New York is going to be our home.” I didn’t speak English at the time, but in a way that’s not a problem, because lots of people in New York don’t speak English.

 

5. Capri, 2006

 

I resisted Capri for a long time. I thought it would be superficial and snobbish. But then 10 years ago I decided to go there with my wife, to see what everyone was talking about. Now I can’t live without going to Capri every year, because it’s the most beautiful place on the planet. The best time to go is in June – you feel like you’re on the Côte d’Azur in the 1950s. There are no cars, and we enjoy being on our own, just strolling around, swimming and eating pasta. That’s true luxury.

 

6. London, 2013

 

I never liked London. I had nothing but bad memories of the city. But the first time I saw the building that would later become Assouline’s first “maison”, it was a revelation. This building [196A Piccadilly] had been a bank for nearly 100 years and then an art gallery, so it was completely empty and it had no windows, but for me there was something magical about it. I had always dreamed of combining a café, a cocktail bar, a gallery and a bookstore – and here my dream became a reality.

 

7. Costa Mesa, California, 2009

 

Henry Segerstrom was one of the most impressive people I’ve ever known. He was a true visionary – he created a mall in Southern California called South Coast Plaza, which became the most important mall in America. I met him eight years ago – when he was 84 – and he invited me to visit him in Costa Mesa, where he gave me a tour of the mall at night, with a glass of champagne. What impressed me most was that even in his eighties, he still had the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old. He was still dreaming every day. He died two years ago, but I think about him a lot.

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John Malkovich

1. Schroon Lake, NY, 1970

 

The first journey you take without your parents is always an important one. When I was 17 I went on a road trip with two friends. We drove from our small town in Illinois to a Baptist Bible camp in Schroon Lake, New York. I’m not sure why my parents let me go – they were pretty much evangelical atheists – but it was decided that I would be a good influence on the other two kids. I don’t remember much about the journey except that I ended up driving for about 24 hours straight. We were such knuckleheads, we didn’t even have a map.

 

2. New York City, 1974

 

Even though I grew up in the Midwest, I never really bought the myth of New York being the center of the world. But I guess you have to see it for yourself, so when I was 21, I drove there with two friends. We stayed in a fleabag hotel near Times Square, walked around Greenwich Village, did all the usual things. But I was strangely unimpressed. That trip taught me the importance of traveling without expectation – with an open mind.

 

3. Chicago, 1976

 

In 1976 I quit college and moved to Chicago. I had met these kids [Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise] while studying drama at Illinois State University. They were starting up the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and they invited me along. So one spring day I packed up my car and drove to Chicago. I knew they were a very talented group of people, but deep down I thought, “This will never work.” Yet somehow it did. I guess we kind of pulled each other along.

 

4. Thailand, 1983

 

One of the most influential journeys of my life was going to Thailand for four months to film The Killing Fields. It was so strange and interesting and exotic. I saw the effect it had on people, which was not always for the best. One of the actors was actually carted off in a helicopter wearing a straitjacket. During the shoot I became friends with one of the actors in the film [Julian Sands] and I ended up coming to England to visit him, and then subsequently filming and acting in plays in London. We’re still friends today – he’s in my short film, A Postcard from Istanbul.

 

5. Peru, 1986

 

The first movie I directed, The Dancer Upstairs, came about because of a trip I made to Peru with my producing partner Russ [Russell Smith]. Not long before we got there, Sendero Luminoso [“Shining Path”, Peru’s Maoist guerillas] had blown up part of the tourist train to Machu Picchu, so there were soldiers everywhere. Then, while we were in Lima, Sendero caused a blackout across half the city. It made a big impression on me. A few years later I read Nicholas Shakespeare’s book The Dancer Upstairs, which was inspired by Sendero Luminoso, and thought, “This would make a great movie.”

 

6. Croatia, 1991

 

My grandfather came from Croatia, but I’ve never felt an urge to trace his roots. I have visited Croatia several times, however, and I strongly recommend it, despite the fact that my first experience of the country was terrible. I’d been invited by a Croatian journalist to attend a film festival in Split, and while I was there, civil war broke out and we had to take off. The only way to get out of the country was to drive through the mountains to Zagreb. The whole experience was really creepy.

 

7. Istanbul, 2000

 

The short film I made for St. Regis, A Postcard from Istanbul, is based on an idea I came up with during one of my trips to the city. The first time I went there was in 2000, for a film festival, and I immediately fell in love with it. I’d read a lot about Istanbul and its history fascinated me: that unique mix, or even clash, of cultures. But it’s also astonishing to look at. I always love a city that has a variety of architectural styles. And then there’s this incredible body of water cutting through the middle. At night, it’s like a dream.

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Jane Goodall

1. Cornwall, England, 1939
 
When I was four, the Second World War broke out, so I was taken by my uncle from London, where we lived, to Cornwall. One morning I collected a bucket of “shells”, only realizing that they were living snails when they escaped all over the living room. I was so upset that my family had to turn everything upside down to find them all, so I could take them back to the sea.

 

2. Germany, 1952
 
After the war, my mother dispatched me to Germany to teach me that not all Germans were evil. The country had been divided into four, and my uncle and aunt lived in the British section. They introduced me to a family whose three children I was to teach English. I was on my own, had never left home before, and the mother in the house was horrible and treated their dogs very badly. I was terribly homesick, but I rode a lot with the youngest daughter and learned to rely on my own resources.

 

3. England to Nairobi, 1957
 
Going off to Africa to stay with a school friend was probably the most exciting journey of my life. I’d earned money as a waitress to buy a liner ticket to Kenya, and for 21 days I had a fantastic time, sharing a cabin with three other girls and flirting with all the officers. The really magic part, though, was leaving grey skies behind and seeing flying fish and dolphins, and smelling exotic flowers and spices wafting from the land.

 

4. Kenya, 1957
 
Having read so much about Africa, when I landed I felt I was home. I’d got a job as secretary to Louis Leakey, the paleoanthropologist. In the Serengeti in those days, there were no roads; to find our way to the Olduvai Gorge, we retraced tracks from the year before. We put up tents and camped. The nearest water was 40 miles away, so we had just one glass each to wash ourselves per day. I almost bumped into a rhino and was followed by a lion, and in the three months there, I saw only a few other people: Borana herdsmen.

 

5. Gombe, Tanzania, 1960
 
Leakey had found me funding to study chimpanzees in Gombe, on Lake Tanganyika, but the officials there insisted I had a companion, so my amazing mother came with me. After driving for days in our Land Rover and camping at night, we reached Kigoma, only to discover that the Belgian Congo had erupted in civil war and there were traumatized refugees everywhere. Of course, we had to help; one day I must have made 2,000 sandwiches. When we eventually got to Gombe, three weeks later, I remember climbing the mountain overlooking the lake and hearing baboons and birdsong, and smelling grass and woodsmoke in the air. It was magical. I put my bed under a palm tree, and felt I had arrived.

 

6. Republic of Congo, 2002
 
Michael Fay – the brilliant biologist who walked more than 2,000 miles across central Africa – found a forest surrounded by swamp where animals had never been exposed to people, and wanted me to go and see it. It was an exhausting journey. My feet were so blistered I had to bind them with masking tape. We were up to our waists in water and mud. But we saw chimps, monkeys and gorillas,
and the area is now a national park: the Goualougo Triangle, known as “the
last Eden”.

 

7. Alaska, 2013
 
Getting to Alaska took days on several planes, the last one a four-seater that landed on a beach where Disney made that wonderful film, Bears. On our very first night we saw them: several grizzlies, fishing for salmon and digging for clams. A mother and two cubs were as close to us as just across a room, and paid absolutely no attention to us. They were absolutely beautiful. That film, I think,
is the best Disney has made.

 

Jane Goodall’s latest book, Seeds of Hope, is published by Grand Central. She leads the worldwide Roots & Shoots youth-led community action and learning program

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Paul Theroux

1. Camping in the woods, 1952
 

My very first adventure was as a Boy Scout, when I was about 11. You had to be able to cook on a fire, shoot a gun and camp. I grew up in a suburb just outside Boston, so my father drove us to the woods and dropped us off at the campsite, where we set up our three little one-man tents and spent a couple of days. This was the first time I’d been away without an adult. With my own tent. My own sleeping bag. Cooking my own food. It was fun, but the best thing was being self-sufficient.

 

2. Skiing in New Hampshire, 1957
 

I grew up in New England, where winters were very snowy, but it was only when I was about 16 or 17 that I learnt to ski. This school trip made a profound impression because it was the first time I’d ever needed specific equipment – jacket, gloves, boots – and I learnt a new skill away from home. It informed the way I travel.

 

3. Discovering Italy, 1963
 

Straight after university, a friend and I hitchhiked from Rome across Italy, living like vagabonds. It was my first experience of life outside America, and it smelt different and it looked different. Italy then was very sober – the men wore brown suits and hats, and the women black dresses. I didn’t know what I was looking for; I was open. I thought, “Maybe I’ll fall in love.” I didn’t, but I did find a vocation: to teach.

 

4. The Peace Corps, 1963
 

This trip, to Nyasaland, which became Malawi, was the one that changed my life. I taught there for two years and then four in Uganda, and I was very happy. I lived in huts, among African people, in the way they lived. I had a connection and made real friends. Because it was a great time of social change, I learnt a lot about Africa, which is what keeps me going back.

 

5. Exploring the East, 1968
 

This wasn’t a trip in the ordinary sense; it wasn’t a journey there and back. I got a job for three years as a lecturer in Singapore. Because it was hot, stifling and noisy, I wanted to leave. So I did – a lot. I would take a train to Bangkok. A ship to Borneo. I went to Burma, to Thailand, to Indonesia and walked the old streets, and ate at the old markets that Joseph Conrad wrote about. By then I had written novels, but never a travel book. Once I’d traveled, though, I had material. I had stories to tell. So Singapore, in a sense, prepared me for a life as a travel writer.

 

6. Taking the train from London to Tokyo, 1973
 

I knew I wanted to write a travel book. I realized I could go from London to Paris, then Istanbul, and then through Turkey overland to Afghanistan and hook up with trains to India and the East. In parts it was dangerous. In Vietnam there was still fighting, and trains were being blown up. But I felt that if I was going to be a travel writer, it was these sorts of experiences I should be writing about. I was young – 31 or 32. I probably wouldn’t do that now.

 

7. From Cairo to the Cape, 2001
 

This was the longest overland trip I have ever undertaken. It was testing and very dangerous, but I produced one of my favorite books. I went to places I had never been – the pyramids in Sudan and the wild lands between Ethiopia and Nairobi. We camped when we got stuck and had to sleep under a lorry. Actually, I haven’t rough-camped much since my first trip as a child.

 

Paul Theroux’s book, The Last Train to Zona Verde, is published by Hamish
Hamilton

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Harry Benson

1. Driving down to Troon, Scotland, 1956
 
I left the RAF when I was 19, but I couldn’t afford a car until I was 26. It was a Fiat 600, and my very first journey was from Glasgow down the west coast of Scotland to a seaside town called Troon. I’ll never forget the feeling, just me in my new car on a sunny day. Because it was Italian, it was a bit sexier than a British car – a chance to get the prettiest girls. Happiness.
 
2. The Berlin Wall goes up, 1961
 
I was sent to Berlin for the London Daily Express, and we knew something was going on as the city was being systematically closed off. The wall went up quickly, the barbed wire and the barricades encircling the city. I went back in 1989 for Life – I never thought I’d see the Berlin Wall come down in my lifetime. I’m glad I was there to see it.
 
3. Following the Beatles to Paris and America, 1964
 
One night in January 1964 I got a call from The Express picture desk to go to Paris to photograph the Beatles. I was a bit annoyed because I had no interest in photographing pop stars. But as I walked into the hall they started to play All My Loving, and it was electric. I knew I was on the right story. My 
favorite picture of the Beatles having a pillow fight was taken in Paris. Within two weeks I was on a plane to America with them for The Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles changed my life because America was a fascinating place to be in the 1960s; after that, I never came back.
 
4. The Meredith march, Mississippi, 1966
 
The Civil Rights Movement was at its height when I drove to Tuscaloosa,
Alabama, HQ of the Klu Klux Klan. I knew this was going to be dangerous, but it was my job. I met the grand wizard, Bobby Shelton, and attended Klan meetings with him. I followed the whole march; I went to rallies, I was tear-gassed, saw beatings, hid film in my socks. When I met Martin Luther King, I said to him, “This is just awful.” And he said, “It is awful being a black man in this country.” Jobs like these were journeys into the heart of America.
 
5. The assassination of Robert Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968
 
I grew to like Bobby Kennedy immensely. He was fun to be with on the campaign, very easy to work with. When he was shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in LA, I was 12 inches away from him. It was chaos and people were punching me in the head and shouting, but I just kept moving, trying to get the shots. I photographed his wife Ethel screaming, and people said, how could you do that? He was someone I cared about. When something like this happens you know you are recording history. The picture of the straw boater is one of my most dramatic. This was Bobby’s blood. This was the end of the road.
 
6. 9/11, New York City, 2001
 
By the time I got down to the site, the second plane had hit. There was dust and debris everywhere and the police weren’t letting anybody through, so I took my pictures from the perimeters. Lots of photographers are suffering now from what they inhaled that day, so in a way it was a blessing for me, but I had to be there to see what happened.
 
7. Returning home to Glasgow, Scotland
 
Glasgow is my home, I love to go back and smell it. It has a rough and tumble about it that is similar to New York. But no year is complete unless I go to Troon for a walk along the beach and have an ice cream or some fish and chips and look across to the Isle of Arran. That to me is Scotland. I get excited just getting on the plane.


 

A life in 7 journeys

A Life in Seven Journeys

1. The Soviet Union, 1986
 
This was my first overseas trip. I’d been saving my babysitting money for five years, and found an anti-nuclear war organisation that took students to Moscow and Leningrad. Although it was controlled and pretty grim – there was nothing to buy, and it was a gray November – we did get to talk to Russian teenagers and professors. One asked if we could name any Russian cities other than Leningrad or Moscow, or any living Russian authors. And we couldn’t. I discovered then that you could learn about places without going there. When I got home I enrolled in Russian and International Relations college courses. That was a mistake: it was like marrying the first boy you ever kissed. I wasn’t in love with Russia; I was in love with travel.

 

2. Wyoming, 1992
 
After college I did a road trip with my then boyfriend to the Rocky Mountains. It was so exotic; after Connecticut, where I grew up, Wyoming was the real Wild West. People had guns. My job as trail cook was to take up to ten people into the mountains on horses, hunting and fishing and exploring glacial lakes. I had no experience, but I had more capacity than I thought. And my first story was based on those experiences, and launched my career as a writer.

 

3. Texas, 1994
 
I’d heard about these rodeo groupies called Buckle Bunnies, and so pitched an idea to an editor about doing a piece on them. It was my first paid assignment and the pressure was huge. I had to learn to walk up to strangers and get them to tell me about their lives; in this case, their sex lives. I learnt something I have used ever since: if you are straight with people, tell them what you’ve come for and what your boss expects from you, and confess to your stupidity, they’ll often tell you what you want. I learnt then I could be a journalist.

 

4. China, 1998
 
At that time, journalists weren’t allowed into China. But I was naive and cocky. I said on my visa form that I was a housewife and bribed people to take me to the Three Gorges Dam, so I could write a story. It was only on the plane on the way back that I realized how stupid I had been. I knew then I didn’t have the stomach for hardcore reporting. Sometimes you have to make a journey to realize you’re on the wrong journey.

 

5. New Zealand, 2000
 
This time I thought: forget about global politics, let’s do something fun. So I went on a research vessel with scientists off the coast of New Zealand to go in search of giant squid. Although looking for a sea monster was exciting, on the ship I realized that I could not have children and that I did not want to be married to the person I was married to. The results of that personal journey were so devastating that I didn’t go traveling for quite a while.

 

6. India, 2004
 
When I went to an ashram in India, I was at a real crossroads. It was a point at which I changed enormously: there was me pre-India, and there was me after-India. I stayed in the same ashram for four months, and the greatest lesson I learnt was to be still. It wasn’t fun, but it was a great spiritual journey. There are many reasons to travel: to have adventure or to run away or to be exotic or to learn about another culture. Sometimes only a pilgrimage can help you find out about yourself.

 

7. French Polynesia, 2012
 
This last journey was glorious: traveling around islands to do research for my most recent novel, The Signature of All Things. Up a volcano, in the rain, on a remote island, I suddenly realized, at the age of 43, that I was exactly where I wanted to be in my life: collecting fascinating pieces of information to write up. It’s a great position to be in. The quote I love is, “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live a perfect imitation of someone else’s life.” In 2000, when I was married, I wasn’t. So it’s gratifying to see I’ve learnt those lessons.

 

The Signature of All Things is published in paperback by Penguin

A Life in Seven Journeys

P. J. O’Rourke

1. Across America in a ’56 Buick, 1977
 
I hadn’t traveled much until I was 30 and drove a very used car from Florida to California. It couldn’t go fast enough for Interstates so there was lots of scenery. I got stranded in most of it. The car broke every day: fuel-pump failure between a New Mexico cattle roundup and the only liquor store for miles; Mid-Mojave, a radiator leak. The transmission locked itself in reverse on Santa Monica Boulevard. I had to drive the last two miles backwards. There’s something to be said for staying home.

 

2. Into the Beqa’a Valley, 1984
 
During Lebanon’s Civil War I went with journalist Charlie Glass to Ba’albek to interview the ferocious leader of an extremist Shiite militia. I was terrified. After a day spent largely being held at gunpoint we went to the magnificent, if bedraggled, Palmyra Hotel, where we were the only guests. Charlie bribed a waiter to bring us a bottle of arak, which we hid under 
the table. Over surreptitious swigs we managed to piece together from memory the whole of Yeats’ The Second Coming. Poetry is great solace, if you’ve got something to drink.

 

3. The Baja Peninsula, 1984
 
Later that year a pal and I took our girlfriends on a Jeep ride down Mexico’s Baja peninsula, off-road, sleeping in tents. The only flat place in the Baja is where you land after rolling off something steep. Every living thing has a prickle, a thorn, a fang or a stinger. The temperature was 110F. The food was… “Sea turtle is like beef,” said the poacher/cook, “except for the smell.” By La Paz the women insisted on a hotel. The Jeep’s undercarriage collapsed at the door. The women flew home. Some journeys are for couples. Neither couple is together today.

 

4. Driving Around in South Africa, 1986
 
Apartheid was still in ugly force. I visited English suburbs, Soweto, Boer settlements and various “homelands”. An American seemed welcome any-where; I don’t know why. I especially enjoyed the KwaZulu capital, Ulundi: world’s smallest Holiday Inn with maybe five rooms. No television reception but a VCR at front desk, wired to bar-room TV. Just two tapes: Zulu and Zulu Dawn. Many patrons had been extras in the latter. I brought an illustrated history of the Zulu War to the bar. All were fascinated. Let us not discount journeys taken on barstools.

 

5. Through the Gulf War into Kuwait, 1991
 
When the ground war began I was in Saudi Arabia with a convoy of reporters. Our plan was to stay behind the front line as troops advanced. But in modern warfare there is no front line. It was midnight. The oil wells were aflame. Iraqi tanks littered the road. Explosions could be heard. The only map we had was in a Fodor’s guide for businessmen. Buildings began to loom. Was there another city between the Saudi border and Kuwait City? There wasn’t. At dawn we were in liberated Kuwait, greeting the troops liberating it. Nothing wrong with getting ahead of yourself.

 

6. The Trans-Siberian Railroad, 1996
 
My wife asked, “Will the trip be fun?” The lady behind the counter said, with Russian poker face, “It will be long remembered.” The train was filthy, stuffy, slow. No hot water in the bathroom. Dining-car fare inedible. But amazing sightseeing. Mountains to awe Sir Edmund Hillary. Forests to daunt Paul Bunyan. We stopped at Lake Baikal. Gorgeous. Empty. I stuck a toe in the July water: 32F. Because a place is beautiful doesn’t mean you have to go there.

 

7. From Islamabad to Calcutta, 1998
 
Land Rover sent two vehicles around the world promoting its Discovery II. I joined the leg across the Indian subcontinent. The Grand Trunk Road was a combination of highway, front parlor, playground, factory floor, barnyard and emergency room for one billion Indians. India’s trucks seemed to lack brakes, lights, speed limits or anyone awake at the wheel. We bet on how many fatal accidents we’d see each day. The top score was more than 25. It’s wrong to say, of certain places, that life there is cheap. But it can be brief.
 
P. J. O’Rourke’s latest book, The Baby Boom, is published by Grove Atlantic